A documented content marketing strategy is what separates the most successful content marketing programs from the banal rest. Upon hearing this, many marketers today breathe a deep sigh of relief. “Nailed it,” they inwardly congratulate themselves. “We wrote down our strategy months ago.”
In other words, you planned the work. Good.
But now it’s time to work the plan.
Image attribution: Jonathan Bean
Here’s where successful marketers realize that crafting the plan is the (comparatively) easy part. Launching the tactical actions and seeing team-wide behavior change to administer the strategy is a different animal. It may even be the difference between a content marketing success . . . and failure.
Guaranteed, your department still has at least one marketing practitioner who must be untaught conventional marketing tactics. The best way to engage newcomers (or luddites) who don’t “get” content marketing is to revisit your strategy together. It’s also the best way to ensure your strategy has what it needs to withstand the pressure test of inevitable unforeseen challenges. It must have a clearly defined purpose, a mission, and a set of business goals.
Your content marketing program’s business goals need not be predictable, short-term monetary needle-movers. In fact—depending on your executive team’s buy-in—they can be wildly creative. They do, however, need to be clearly detailed in your documented strategy.
This concept goes far beyond the traditional marketing persona exercise. It’ll include things like where your target subscriber prefers to receive content (and why), what stories are available to them now, what daily challenges are competing for their attention, and more.
Life sucked for our customer. But then, our product came along and saved the day. That story no longer resonates with today’s consumer. B2B and B2C audiences alike know deep down they are all involved in a great adventure with billions of other thinking, feeling, enterprising humans. It’s your brand’s job to acknowledge the struggle and triumph with your strategy’s mortal protagonist. Here—the documented strategy—is where that’s depicted. (The media experiences you provide will eventually be mapped to this story. So the more raw, the more true you can make it, the easier your tool, information, entertainment, escape, or education can be received right when it matters most.)
This is a strategy within a strategy. It’s an operational process whereby your marketing team starts to look less like an agency manager (or worse, agency client) and more like its own creative studio and profit center: a media company. It will include your main medium, content creation roles, responsibilities, expectations, quality standards, distribution channels, contributor relationship management, and earned media correspondence.
What is content marketing talk without a hot back-and-forth over metrics? Great news: You don’t need to start building from zero to prove an outstanding ROI for content marketing. You simply need to prove it’s more cost-effective than traditional methods, a helpful observation supplied by Marketing Insider Group’s Michael Brenner. As for an actionable suggestion, consider killing the phrase return on investment entirely. Replace it with return on objective, suggests UB’s CMO Samar Singh Sheikhawat, a mindset shift that routes attention away from vanity metrics and back on your plan where it belongs.
Image attribution: Alex Radelich
Whether you’re still relying on the 4Ps or you’ve moved onto frameworks from the Content Marketing Institute or Michael Brenner’s seven-step progression, the model you chose should be so ingrained that you can both explain it to strangers in a quick elevator ride and defend it late at night when doubts creep in. Perhaps even more important, your team members should know the framework inside out.
A deep knowledge of your chosen schema is the first step to a successful execution of your content marketing strategy. And it’s not hard to achieve. Someday soon, try this: Divide your team in half and challenge each group to an “our strategy” pop quiz. The results may surprise both you and them. Treat whichever team wins to an in-office popcorn maker or a singing telegram service. Redistribute a copy of the collective strategy, and promise team members there will be more “opportunities to win” later. The drill may feel silly at first, but you’re communicating the importance of a group-wide commitment to knowing your strategy framework’s most important elements.
Did you know the root of the word “decide” means “to cut off”? If the essence of strategy is indeed what not to do, and good tactics often sabotage great ones, then it makes sense that you’ll need to give up some previously cool partners and a few decent methodologies.
Terminating certain service providers, dismantling a lackluster software, reallocating the budget, and even rearranging team members can feel like torture to some leaders. A strategy can make this easier on everyone. Once your strategy is on paper, it’s time to make those changes.
Going back to your strategy regularly is not a sign of some deficiency. Instead, it’s a great way to ensure your plan stays front of mind. It also builds in an opportunity to reinforce or change small details of the plan. Put a quarterly “strategy visit” appointment on your group’s calendar so you’ll know early on if the fleet starts to veer off course.
Image attribution: Asael Peña
“What are they doing over there?” you’ll hear from accounting, operations, and even sales. Instead of endless desk-side chats, drawn out explanatory coffee breaks, and interdepartmental debates, release your strategy to the whole company.
Your team members will be talking with coworkers about it anyway, and this is the perfect way to ensure everyone’s on the same page about what it means (and why it matters). You can even distill the whole shebang into a carefully worded one-page mission statement to release to the public. Consumers appreciate the altruistic approach to corporate communications that content marketing provides, and a simplified version of your content marketing strategy can be just the #faithinhumanity moment someone needs amid the noisy product-centric bragging and promise-making they’re used to. Best of all, sharing your plan means you’ll think twice before ditching your content brand to chase shiny objects—which is the whole purpose of a strategy.
Strategic implementation has been an organizational challenge for generations. In fact, consulting behemoth McKinsey still says that 70 percent of change programs fail, and recommends a change management approach to better your odds. Revisiting your plan regularly, ensuring your team knows the details of your strategy, cutting ties with old methods and vendors, and sharing your plan internally and publicly are all first steps you can take toward strategy implementation.
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Featured image attribution: Nathan Shively